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7 Ways to Determine Which Shelter Cat Is Right for You

Ensure a successful adoption by knowing what type of cat works best for your situation. Here are seven questions I ask myself before I adopt.

Catherine Holm  |  Nov 5th 2014


We have no guarantees when we adopt a new animal into our home, but we can pay attention to some details before we adopt and hugely increase the chances that the adoption will work out. With patience and education, and awareness about your own situation and your preferences, you can hopefully choose a cat who will work beautifully in your household.

Here are seven things I think about when I go into the shelter:

1. Can I really take on a cat at this time?

I need to be very honest with myself, because I want to help every cat that I can and sometimes that is not possible. So I ask myself if I am ready for a new adoptee. Can I handle the care of this cat financially and be responsible for his health? Can I take care of the basics (neuter/spay and vaccinations) if that hasn’t been done already? Can I make appropriate health-care decisions?

2. Do I have other animals in the house? What are their needs and dispositions?

I do my best to think about the other animals at home before I bring home a new adoptee. Their temperaments need to be considered. Of course, not every introduction can be predicted, but we can use the information at hand to make an educated guess. If you have other cats, do they tolerate cats well? If you have a dog, does the dog get along with cats? Are your other animals uptight or extremely sensitive about any change?

3. Will what’s observable about the shelter cat fit with my other animals?

Similarly, you can observe the shelter cat and try to ascertain whether his personality will mesh well with any animals at home. If you already have a fairly domineering male cat, for example, you might be increasing the odds of a rough integration if you bring a similar cat home.

Take your time at the shelter and really get to know the cat. Take the cat where you can be alone with him, if possible. Will he play if there are toys? Does he exhibit shy behavior? Aggressive behavior? Is she laid-back? Hyper? Again, you and the kitty are in a shelter, and a cat’s personality may more truly come forth once you are home with the cat.

Think about the time you take to make a big purchase, like buying a car. Act similarly when adopting a cat. I waited a month to adopt one cat, and visited him often to make sure that this was the cat for me. He turned out to be an amazing cat. I just needed time to think about whether I could adopt at that point.

4. Do I want the energy of a kitten or the more laid-back personality of an older cat?

Kittens are high energy. If you’ve never had a kitten before, spend some time with kittens and see if you can meet their high-energy needs. Will they have room to run in your place? Kittens are adorable and utterly fun. It’s certainly a different experience than adopting an older cat — both are great, in my opinion!

5. Do I have the physical space to adequately provide for a new adopted cat?

Think about whether you can provide your cat with an interesting and stimulating environment, particularly if she will be indoor-only. This would include good vertical space, if possible, and places to hide and escape when needed.

6. Does the cat appear healthy?

Is his coat shiny, eyes clear, and is he breathing clearly? Is he sneezing? What do you know about past health issues? Does he appear subdued or depressed? These are not necessarily reasons not to adopt, but they are things you should be aware of as you assess the cat.

You may find that once you take your kitty home, she will start to look even better. My orange cat Chester had kind of a ratty coat in the shelter and was slightly overweight (he was in a community-cat room with free feeding). Once home, his coat improved and became fluffy. He lost weight and looks terrific.

7. Do I feel a connection with the cat?

This is tougher to pin down, and yet we all know when it happens. Sometimes there’s just a special something that connects you with a particular cat. You know that’s the cat you want and that she is meant for you.

I’ve also adopted cats that I didn’t necessarily feel that instant connection with, but they turned into marvelous pets. Some connections just deepen over time.

What do you look for when you’re adopting? What clues you into the fact that this is the cat for you? Let us know in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.